ACROPOLIS, ATHENS

   The city of Athens was home to some of the most aesthetically sophisticated architecture of the ancient world. In particular, the Acropolis, a sanctuary of religious structures, has been extensively excavated to reveal the superior place its wonders occupy in classical architectural history. Located on a hill in the center of Athens, these buildings celebrate the origins of Athenian culture through the veneration of the goddess Athena. After the first Acropolis complex was destroyed by Persian troops in 480 BC, a new complex was commissioned by the Athenian ruler Pericles and directed by the architectural sculptor Pheidias. This new complex was much criticized by surrounding communities because their payments to the Delian League's treasury, kept in Athens to provide military support across the region, was instead used for Pericles's reconstruction of the Acropolis. In Athens, however, the Acropolis became a symbol of Athenian supremacy across the region, demonstrative of Athenian pride and cultural values.
   Marble was brought from quarries outside the city to construct a complex of seven major buildings, including the Propylaia, or grand portico entrance into the walled complex accessible by the "Sacred Way"; the Pinakotheke, or picture gallery on the left of the Propylaia; the little Temple of Athena Nike on the edge of the hill to the right of the entrance; the courtyard sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia (protector of animals); and the armory, called the Chalkotheke, which finally directs the visitor to the Erechtheion on the left, and on its right, to the famous Parthenon, located on the most elevated site of the Acropolis. Many votive statues, such as the colossal bronze of Athena the Defender located just through the Propylaia, filled the rooms, court-yards, and open areas. The Parthenon, dedicated to Athena Parthenos, to whom votive offerings were brought, housed a monumental statue of Athena made of ivory and gold. Construction began in 480 BC by the architect Kallikrates but was halted for about 30 years and then expanded upon by the architect Iktinos. This white marble rectangular temple is elevated by several marble steps, called the stereobate, that surround the entire building and lead up to a continuous portico lined in a peristyle on all four sides with a single row of columns. Additionally, because the temple has a single peristyle rather than double columns, it is called a peripteral temple. At the Parthenon, a pronaos, or smaller porch, provides an entrance from the eastern platform, or stylobate, into the internal sanctuary, called the cella. A separate, unconnected portico then faces west, providing symmetry to the building. The columns that surround the building are of the most austere order, the Doric. Above the Doric capitals is a smooth architrave, and above this begins the frieze of triglyphs, or three-part glyph patterns, and metopes, or square panels carved with relief sculptures of various battle scenes. Rising above this frieze is a triangular pediment surrounded by a cornice filled with sculptures of gods and goddesses. Triangular pediments occupy the west and east façades of the slightly gabled roof, which is made of marble and not the usual wood or terracotta. Although most of the building remains today, the roof was destroyed and most of the architectural sculpture was placed in the British Museum in London.
   Greek architects are best known for their graceful columns, and here the Doric columns are fluted, or carved with vertical lines, and calculated mathematically to rise to an increasingly more slender width from the drum, through the shaft, and to the necking right beneath the capital. It is this attention to mathematical detail, focused on symmetry, harmony, and proportionality, that provides the Parthenon with an enduring beauty called the "classical" aesthetic. Many Renaissance and later Neo-Classical buildings found across the western world have been modeled on the Parthenon, not only for its aesthetics, but also because its architecture came to symbolize general prosperity, democratic principles, and honest leadership.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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